An Army sniper accused of stashing grenades in his Columbus apartment was released from custody Thursday after attorneys brokered a deal for him to remain on Fort Benning as he awaits trial.
Stuart L. Adcock, 23, of the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, faces charges of possession of explosives and lying to federal agents. He had been jailed since Jan. 20 when federal agents searched his apartment off Milgen Road.
The charges sprang from a message the FBI received last week from Matthew D. Black, a relative of Adcock’s in Creedmoor, N.C., who claimed he had seen Adcock with a fragmentation grenade.
Prosecutors described Black as an estranged “in-law” who is not on good terms with Adcock.
“There apparently seems to be some ill will between the two,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Melvin E. Hyde Jr. said.
In the message, which was sent to an FBI website, Black claimed Adcock also had blocks of C4 explosives and flashbang grenades in his apartment, according to court documents.
Agents quickly contacted Black and then spoke to Adcock on Fort Benning. Adcock allegedly denied having explosives at first and agreed to a search of his apartment.
As the agents were en route, Adcock phoned his fiancée, Megan Wencel, and allegedly asked her to conceal the explosives. Authorities did not find any explosives inside the Hampton Place apartment, but later checked a wooded area where Wencel had been seen walking. They allegedly found a fragmentation grenade, two flashbang grenades and a military flare.
Lt. Brad Hicks, director of the Office of Homeland Security in Columbus, said authorities cordoned off the wooded area and determined the explosives had been designed for military use. Hicks said it was difficult to say whether the explosives posed any danger to the public.
“The biggest thing was they were recovered safely without incident,” he said. “Anytime a piece of military ordnance is found outside somebody’s control, there’s the possibility of a detonation to occur, whether it’s accidental or not.”
In addition to the explosives, federal agents said they were concerned by a cache of firearms they found in Adcock’s apartment. Adcock’s mother, with the help of Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents, removed several rifles from the apartment Thursday morning. As a condition of Adcock’s bond, the weapons were to be sent back to North Carolina with his mother, U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Hyles said.
On Thursday, prosecutors argued that Adcock posed a flight risk in part because he had been scheduled to deploy this week to Afghanistan. Hyde said Adcock showed “a severe lack of judgment” by asking Wencel to place explosives in a public area in an apartment complex that houses about 500 people, including 150 children. He said he was not opposed, however, to Adcock remaining on post pending trial. Adcock is no longer scheduled to deploy with his unit.
Adcock’s defense attorney, Franklin J. Hogue of Macon, Ga., said he was pleased with Hyles’ decision to release Adcock on bond.
“Instead of waiting in the Muscogee County Jail, Mr. Adcock will live on the post, even if he will be confined to the area of his unit on base,” Hogue said in an e-mail.
It’s too soon to say whether Adcock will work out a plea agreement and avoid trial, Hogue added.
“Our goal will be to determine how best to preserve Mr. Adcock’s freedom, since the crimes for which he’s been arrested carry potential prison sentences,” Hogue said. “The irony here, of course, is that Mr. Adcock has dedicated the last five years of his life as an Army Ranger to the defense of our freedom, and now his freedom is at stake.”
Prosecutors had not determined whether to charge Wencel. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office would not comment, and Wencel declined to be interviewed Thursday. Black, the informant who alerted the FBI, had not returned a phone message Thursday evening.
About six Army Rangers attended Adcock’s hearing in downtown Columbus